PMPM Execution -- Energy Part Two: Treating the Problem

First of all, how much do you weigh?

Really? Well, I bet that if you actually weighed yourself morning and evening for a month, you'd find that your weight fluctuates five pounds or so. Not that I'm recommending you do that. The point is that your weight is actually a sort of baseline that you typically hover around. At any particular moment, you can be more or less than that weight based on what you just ate, your hormones, your fluid intake, and so on. This is your normal range. If your intake of calories equals the amount of expenditure, you stay right around your normal weight.

Now, let's say that you spend three weeks in Paris in a room above a patisserie. Or that you spend a week with the stomach flu. You will not be within your normal weight range, but you could still say your baseline weight is the same. You are unusually heavy or light for your weight. But any change will typically readjust after you are home or well again.

Spend a year moonlighting as an ice cream taste-tester or take up a regular running habit however, and you may actually change your baseline weight. You aren't the weight you were before, but a new weight.

It's the same with energy.

First, you have a baseline level of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. Around this level is your normal range. So I tend to have more mental energy earlier in the day and more physical energy in the early afternoon. And I have more energy in general when I'm well rested and not hungry. But generally it's within that normal range. Obvious, right? When you are at your baseline, the amount of energy you expend is generally equal to the amount to replenish, so you're steady.

Your baseline can naturally change seasonally. For example, I tend to have more physical energy in the spring and early summer and more spiritual energy in fall and winter. This isn't to any harmful degree mind you (not like someone who has seasonal effective disorder) but just as the normal flow of my year. Again, any changes are part of the normal range of energy and generally gradual.

So what happens when your energy seems unusually low? It's usually something like that stomach flu. It doesn't necessarily change your baseline, but it impacts your immediate reserves. So you are on a major deadline at work. There's a lot of pressure and stress. You know it's impacting your energy levels, but you also know that it's only temporary.

There are also things that can make your energy unusually high. This sounds like a good thing, but if it's much higher than your baseline, you eventually run low on reserves. So you go to a seminar or conference and come back completely energized and inspired. You rush around, trying to implement a bunch of changes and accomplish a bunch of stuff until you run out of fuel and crash. Note, this is why there are people who keep paying money to see the same productivity guru or experience the same class/event/tent revival over and over. They need the highs of these events, but they don't last because it's not realistic compared to their baseline energy.

Finally, you can have long term impacts on your energy that actually change your baseline. I think we all know people who seem to have more energy than others on a steady basis and who seem healthy and balanced about it (we also know people who are constantly running around doing things, but who then crash when their energy runs out -- don't confuse the two). And we know people who never seem to have much energy no matter what they do (we may even be or have been these people). If you are under chronic stress, are long-term sleep deprived, or suffering from some energy drain for many months, your baseline can decrease. On the other hand, if you clean up your energy habits for long enough, you can increase your baseline energy level.

But first things first. If you are dealing with depletion of energy or a lack of effective recharging, you have to fix that. If lack of energy is impacting your ability to reach your PMPM goals, then you'll need to work on that as part of your project execution. If it's particularly bad, you may even spin off a sub project to improve your energy levels. And to be honest, an energy improvement project (including getting back to baseline and then improving your baseline) could be a great PMPM working candidate in its own right.

Plug the Drain
So, in the previous post I suggested creating a list of things across the four categories that are draining your energy. Now, what do you do about them? Well there are a couple of possibilities:

Nothing. You accept that this is an energy drain and that right now there's nothing you can do about it. An excellent example of this is grief. If you have suffered a loss and are grieving, that's a normal and natural process that takes energy. That means you will have less energy left for other things. However, you don't want to stop or short circuit the grieving process. You do want to be gentle with yourself and do nurturing things to try to replenish you, but even those things may not be as effective. You have to move through the process, with help as necessary, and come through the other side.

Mitigate. Let's be honest, we can't always immediately change the things that drain our energy. If you need your shitty, shitty job to pay the bills, then you need it. And until you find another one, you have to deal with the one you have. However there are still things you can do to keep it from sucking all your energy. For example, you can emotionally disinvest yourself, shield the energy off so that it doesn't follow you home, set up energy sinks in your space to capture the negative energy, perform invisibility enchantments to avoid unwanted attention, keep to yourself and avoid drama and gossip, and so on. And of course, get that resume polished and keep hunting. Even the act of doing something in a proactive direction can keep your energy levels up. This is an example of flexing your energy muscles, expending a little to keep strong.

Eliminate. On the other hand, maybe this is a drain that you can do something about. Maybe it's a toxic person you can just drop. A situation you can stop or avoid. A stress that is needless or that you can end through action. There are people who seem to always attract drama into their lives, and that drama is a huge energy sink. But most drama requires consenting participants. If you decline to participate, a lot of it just fades away. It's no longer your drama. Or maybe eliminating the energy drain is more difficult. A dysfunction in your immediate family, your living situation, a major financial worry. Those are harder to eliminate, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. There are many magical technique that can assist with this process, from banishing to binding, grounding, mirroring, deflecting, and so on. Coupled with real action (like setting physical and emotional boundaries, changing your environment, and so on) this can be very powerful and empowering.

Do these three responses seem vaguely familiar? They should. They are basically three out of the four mitigation strategies to deal with risk. And an energy drain is nothing if not a very active risk. I can't see how to turn an energy drain into a positive, but if you think of something let me know.

Focus on the Upside

When there are demands on your energy that you don't want to or can't do anything about, you need an alternate plan. For example, a major illness or injury in your family where you are in the caregiver role. Or you yourself are ill or injured and need to expend a lot of energy to heal. Or you are launching a new business or side hustle and, on top of the day job, it's draining you. You don't want to avoid or eliminate these, you want to balance them. That means significantly improving your energy intake.

You know, this is where it could get kind of pedantic. I mean, we all know the recipe for feeling better, right?

One part sleep
One part vegetables
One part exercise

If we could all just jog in our sleep while eating broccoli, we'd be totally set.

These three items are important, but how you apply them depends on the kind of energy depletion you have.

Physical: If you are physically low on energy, the three recipe ingredients above can be really helpful. However, in the spirit of being realistic for a short-term effort, here is what I'd suggest:

  • Make sure the sleep you are getting is the best it can be. That means focusing on your sleep environment (cooler is better, darker is better) as well as the period right before you go to sleep (herb tea, a book instead of TV, listen to mellow music, a small snack so you aren't starving). Push your last caffeine intake a little earlier in the day. The hardest part about improving your sleep is that there's a tendency to get stressed about it, which is completely counter-productive.
  • On the food front, running around with a crazy schedule is a recipe for eating badly. Instead of kicking off some entire rework of your diet (which requires a lot of will-power -- AKA energy -- to sustain) focus on adding healthy items to your current diet. This will make you feel less deprived. Our favorite technique is called second vegetable. Whenever we're talking about dinner, we examine adding a second vegetable. We do this even when the dinner itself seems hopeless: grocery store pizza? Choose supreme and let's add a salad. Fish sticks and mashed potatoes? Let's have peas and sliced tomatoes with it. Sandwiches for supper? Put lettuce and avocado on them and have a box of tomato soup on the side. Also, make sure you are getting enough protein. This is usually not a problem for those of us in the first world, but if you are eating particularly badly, it can be. Finally, find ways of adding garlic and peppers to your diet. They'll boost your immune system and warm you up. 
  • When you are physically run down, the last thing you feel like doing is expending more energy. But again, a little output can increase your capacity and give you energy back. For physical depletion, I recommend a mini-sprint rather than a marathon. That is, do enough to get your heart rate up and your blood moving, but only for short time. That's because being physically depleted can impact your immune system and adding a whole bunch of exercise all at once can increase your likelihood of getting sick. I'm talking about a brisk walk around the block or a few pushups/situps/jumping jacks in your living room. No expectations, no goals, no resolutions or commitments. Don't do more than you can really do and if that's less than usual, just accept it and move on. The idea is to just get your body moving and warmed up, not to run yourself further down.

Emotional: Being emotionally drained puts you in a fragile space. There's a tendency to want to beat yourself up for feeling the way you do, which is obviously unhelpful. The goal here is to nurture yourself without over-indulging.
  • If you are spending too much time sleeping or quasi-sleeping, you need to set some boundaries. Decide on a bed time and stay out of your bed until then. Decide on a time to get up and set an alarm... and then get up. No that doesn't mean you should be getting up shockingly early. Just reasonably. And when you do get up, really get up. Put on clothes, don't get back in bed.
  • There's a distinct connection between your gut and your emotional state. If you are emotionally drained, I recommend taking a quality pro-biotic (the kind in a cool case at the health food store). Eat food that's easy to digest (a shake made from yogurt, banana, berries, and good protein power, veggie-filled soups, etc.). And do try to avoid overindulging in the quart of ice cream or case of beer sorts of ways.
  • The last thing you need when you are emotionally drained is to feel crappy about how out of shape you feel or how much you suck at (insert athletic activity of your choice). Instead, I recommend the kind of exercise that comes from being around other people (do I need to say low drama, nurturing, friendly people?). Go for a walk with a good friend. Host a supper with people who you care about. Trade help with chores with a neighbor. Get out and about.

Mental: If you are dealing with a depletion of mental energy, your strategy should be to act, but not over-think.
  • Sleep is still important, but if the problem is that you can't shut your brain down, then meditation is going to be your friend. Also, I sometimes keep a notepad by my bed to jot stuff down that's bugging me before bed. The idea is that writing it down is permission to stop thinking about it. Also, end your workday by logging and planning what to do the following day and then try to leave it behind. And you will sleep better if you avoid packing your brain full of lolcats and memes right before bed. 
  • If you are having memory issues because your brain is just tired or "too full" supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) and acetyl-L-carnitine. The spouse's injury involved a concussion and his doctor recommended these for helping his brain heal. You should also be eating more fish (small oily ones are best). For mental depletion, I also like juicing. A glass of kale or carrot juice gives a nice boost in the morning. Avoid juices that also have more sugar than cola.
  • For mental depletion, I recommend rhythmic exercise that let's your brain stop working. Dancing, walking, riding, swimming. The key is not to overthink it. Don't use a FitBit or track your progress or compare yourself to others or... well, anything brainy. Just get out for a stroll someplace peaceful or swim laps or put on your favorite songs and boogie.
Spiritual: If your spiritual energy levels are generally low, it's probably just a matter of opening yourself up to the natural spiritual energy all around you.
  • If you are sleeping, then meditation before bed is, of course, the best way to relax and open yourself up spiritually. I also recommend dream work and/or lucid dreaming as ways to make your sleep more spiritually engaging. If you aren't sleeping well or enough, then look to the other suggestions here to get the sleep you need to dream in the first place.
  • In terms of spiritual nourishment, adjusting your diet can be helpful. Eating lower on the food chain has long been associated with spirituality and the change doesn't have to be permanent (I made a terrible vegetarian). You can also focus on eating food that has had the maximum honor provided to the plants and animals (organic, free range, cruelty free... you know the drill). Saying grace over your meal isn't something a lot of us think about, but it can be a wonderful way of spiritually connecting with the systems that give you nourishment. Of course there are other ways of nourishing your spirit that have nothing to do with food. Honoring your ancestors and friendly Deities / Spirits is one. Performing offerings to the land where you live is another. These small actions can have outsized results.
  • In terms of exercising, yoga and tai chi come immediately to mind. Also spending time in nature is excellent for aligning your body with spirit. Finally, one of the best ways to boost your spiritual energy is to do something real to help others. Volunteering for a cause you believe in and actually getting out into your community is a great spirit booster (and something I myself should do more of).
If you get your energy issues sorted, you will have a lot more energy to apply to your working (and to your life in general). But this isn't the only issue people have with PMPM execution. We'll be getting into some other areas of trouble as well.


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